Looking for Church Leaders

By Alan Ahlgrim

The many problems in this world will never be addressed without gifted leaders. When Jesus began his world-changing enterprise, he started with a few good men. They weren’t perfect (even though handpicked!). And they proved God’s remarkable power to use inadequate and imperfect people, even inadequate and imperfect leaders, for his grand purpose.

Bill Hybels says, “The local church is the most leadership intensive organization on the planet.” That means the kingdom of Jesus Christ demands a higher and more complex form of leadership than any business in the country because it is utterly voluntary.

And that is one reason the church is always desperately seeking to involve more people in ministry.

Let’s focus on a few of the people closest to Jesus to see exactly what Jesus was looking for when he picked them.

HUMBLE SERVICE (Matthew 9:35)

According to Jesus, if you want to be the greatest you must learn to be the least. If you want to be first you must learn to be last. If you want to be served you must first learn to serve. That’s the Jesus way!

Secular leadership expert Robert Greenleaf first stressed the servant-leader concept for business in the 1970s. Others soon repeated it. One training manager at a Fortune 500 company said his firm requires its managers to take nine eight-hour management training classes, and six of those courses stress a servant-management style. Though many business leaders believe this principle, kingdom leaders historically set the pace.

On Jerry Paul’s first day as president of Great Lakes Bible College, the school’s chancellor asked for a moment of his time. Years before this man had recruited Paul to college, instructed him as a student, and even supervised him in ministry. He was clearly the superior in knowledge, experience, and Christian maturity.

Yet as the chancellor entered the office, he softly spoke these words: “I want to help you in every way possible. I am your humble servant. I will do anything you ask. Your wish is my command.” Jerry said it brought him to tears as this man, who had every right to say, “Let me tell you how to do your job,” said instead, “Allow me to be your servant.”

When Chancellor Brant Lee Doty died, his life was described as an illustration of 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

Jesus set the servant-leadership standard. He did not demand to be served; he humbled himself as a servant. There is no real Christian leadership apart from humility. That’s why leadership of people will come in direct proportion to your willingness to serve them.


Anglican theologian John Stott says Jesus was indignant over disease, hunger, and death, for he perceived these things as alien to God’s purpose. Stott says indignation and compassion form a powerful combination. They are indispensable to vision, and, therefore, to leadership.

History abounds with illustrations to prove that point. Moses was shocked by the cruel oppression of the Israelites. Nehemiah was grieved to the point of tears about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Paul was motivated to work night and day to share the good news of Christ with those who had no hope. These men, and all the great spiritual leaders and social reformers who have followed, have been energized by a kind of “holy boldness” springing from the explosive combination of indignation and compassion.


Leaders are able to evaluate the events around them. They are students of their culture. They watch the trends. They observe the patterns. They listen to what’s being said. They pay attention to what’s going on and, as a result, they are able to assess and analyze accurately.

The problem with many organizations, especially ones that are failing, is they tend to be overmanaged and under led. They may excel in the ability to handle the daily routine, yet never question whether the routine should be done at all. As someone said, “What is not worth doing is not worth doing well!” That’s a tough lesson to learn, especially for gifted managers.

You see, managers are concerned with doing things right, while leaders are concerned with doing the right things. Managers of a work crew cutting a jungle path are busy sharpening machetes and following blueprints. But management is not the same as leadership. The manager often doesn’t see the big picture, but the leader must. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree and yells, “Wrong jungle!”

Jesus was the best leader ever because he had the best perspective ever. He had climbed the tallest tree, and he knew what needed to be done. In Acts 6 when the early church was searching for quality leaders, one of the standards given by the apostles was this: “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

Just as Jesus was looking for men of discernment to partner with him as apostles, the apostles of Jesus were looking for discerning leaders as well.

Wisdom and discernment are essential qualities for those in key leadership roles. Top-level leaders don’t have to be the smartest people, but they must be among the wisest, most intuitive, and most sensitive to the Spirit.


It’s been said God does nothing except in answer to prayer. When good things occur, you can be certain someone is praying.

Prayer is the greatest resource of the Christian leader. That’s why all the pastors on our church staff and all the elders are encouraged to recruit intercessors, people who will pray with and for them. If you’re a leader or seeking to take leadership to the next level, then take your prayer life to the next level.

Refusing to pray for yourself is an expression of arrogance; it’s like saying, “Lord, I can handle this challenge all by myself!” Not asking others to pray for you is an expression of ignorance; it’s being blind to the special calling and gifting of others.

I have nearly a hundred intercessors now, and some of them have been close friends for years. I update my intercessors every month to let them know how much I appreciate their prayers. In fact, I am sure I owe more to their prayers than I could ever know. But that doesn’t excuse me from praying for wisdom and insight, protection and direction; it reinforces the need. I know what happens at our church is not the result of hard work alone, though hundreds have done that. Fervent prayer is the key ingredient.

God has everything we need; therefore the wise leader will ask—and keep on asking. This was the secret of the Lord’s leadership success. If he needed to pray to the Father, how much more do we?

BOLD INITIATION (Matthew 10:1)

Jesus didn’t passively lament the tragic needs and events that surrounded him; he did something about them. Jesus was a doer; his leadership was proactive.

In analyzing the world’s most successful corporations, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman noted eight attributes. First on the list was a “bias for action.” The standard operation procedure was “do it, fix it, try it.” They all allowed some chaos in return for quick action.

A colleague in ministry received this advice from a friend: “You need to spend less time planning and more time doing.” Those words hit home. His tendency was to overplan and to under-deliver. He learned to act more quickly.

Leaders are the most results-oriented people in the world. They’re not simply concerned with maintaining the status quo; they want improvement. That was certainly true for Jesus. Jesus came into the world not to enjoy it or to survive it or to merely make peace with it, but to change it. Jesus was an activist, and Jesus encouraged his disciples to act as well. That’s why the apostles’ letters to the church are packed with challenges to put faith into action.


The mark of a true leader is not only a bias for action, but a desire to get things done through other people. That can be risky. The problem with delegation is we don’t trust others to do things the way we want them done.

Many people honestly believe to get anything done right you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t have that attitude! Jesus (the only perfect teacher and leader who ever lived) fully trusted others to represent him and even to do the work of God. Incredible!

Jesus was willing to risk delegating important work to rookies. If Jesus did that with us, what about our doing that with others? If you have the gift of leadership or want to grow in that gift, a good question to ask is, “What am I currently doing that someone else could do 80 percent as well?”

As D.L. Moody once said: “I would rather put 10 men to work than to do the work of 10 men!” That’s how a leader thinks and acts.


Matthew 10 is a clear, inspiring summary of the challenges Jesus gave his followers. He tells them where to go, what to do, how to dress, and what to expect. He warns and prepares them for the difficulties coming their way so that when problems arise, they won’t panic.

Jesus didn’t trick his disciples. It was all there in the job description, and that’s what motivated them. They knew the stakes were high because Jesus called them to join him in the cosmic conflict between good and evil. He showed them how to face the challenges that would come.

In his wonderful book When God Builds a Church, Bob Russell says this:

A third-grade Sunday school teacher at our church asked her class to write notes of encouragement to me as their preacher. I appreciated all the notes, but I especially liked the one from Kenny Ward. It read, “To Bob Russell: You have to be brave to be able to stand in front of thousands of people. I am glad you’re a preacher at this church, and I think you do a wonderful job. I am praying that one of these times you don’t mess up!”

Leading a church as a staff member, an elder, or a vital volunteer is a heavy responsibility. This is not for all, but for those who are called, it is a frightening privilege.

May God grant us a few—even many—more good men and women for the challenges and opportunities coming our way!

Pray we don’t mess up!



Alan Ahlgrim is lead pastor with Rocky Mountain Christian Church, Niwot, Colorado, and a member of the Publishing Committee for Standard Publishing. This article is adapted from a sermon.

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